Dawn Misitano isn't worried about pay-to-play sidelining any of her three children from playing sports at Altoona Area High School, but she does have concerns that the move will affect them indirectly.
For instance, it might keep some of their classmates off the field or out of the gym.
"Unfortunately, I do think it will keep other kids [from playing],'' said Misitano, whose son, Nicholas, plays soccer and whose twin daughters, Alex and Tori, are on the gymnastics team. "Even if there are funds available, I think it will be just another hoop that some kids that if they have to jump through won't participate, and maybe those are the kids that need it the most.
"I have mixed feelings about it.''
Misitano isn't the only one. Feelings from players, parents and coaches in the district who talked to the Mirror concerning the new registration fee that will go into effect next school year were of uncertainty but grudging acceptance in the backdrop of an economy where unemployment is around 9 percent and gasoline costs nearly $4 per gallon.
"It's the world we live in,'' said Lou Steinbugl, who already has two sons in the Altoona athletic system in addition to a sixth-grade daughter currently in parochial school. "Schools are trying to save money in whatever way they can and increase their income in any way they can.''
Although many of the details are still to be ironed out, any player participating in a sport in the district would have to pay a one-time-covers-all fee of $50 each school year. That includes cheerleading.
According to athletic director Phil Riccio, plans already are in the works to help students/families in need cover the costs. Fundraisers, donations and sponsorships have been mentioned by different sources.
"Obviously, with anything new, there are going to be some bumps,'' Riccio said, "but no kid, child, student-athlete is going to be left out because of financial strings.''
In spite of those assurances, there still seems to be some insecurity involved with pay-to-play. Riccio clearly noted it was a "registration fee'' - potentially a proactive attempt to defuse any feelings that paying actually entitles athletes to receive more playing time. Several families declined to talk about the matter, even off the record. Some Altoona coaches were reluctant to do so, as well, instead referring questions to Riccio.
There's no doubt that questions remain about how the policy will play out and what kind of ramifications will result.
"Obviously, in a sport like ours where numbers matter, that's a concern,'' said Mike Adams, who has coached the school's boys track team to two PIAA team titles and has a lengthy dual-meet winning streak. "I'm kind of taking a wait-and-see attitude. I don't think anyone involved wants to see a pay-to-play situation, but, I understand, with the economic concerns right now, they're trying to do the best they can.''
It's also hard to get used to paying for something that used to be offered for free. Just ask junior Danny Moyer, a three-sport athlete at Altoona.
"All of us don't agree with the idea of us having to pay to play a high school sport,'' Moyer said, "but, when it comes down to it, we're going to have to pay, because we love to play the sports that we do.''
For many, the fee is just an inconvenience. At Altoona, it actually is lower than a number of other schools in the state that have enacted pay-to-play policies.
The chief concerns rest with those who aren't able to pay it.
"We're trying to create avenues for the kids who can't play,'' Eric Hovan, the school's tennis coach, said.
Hovan said there've been times in his 15 years coaching at Altoona where the program would buy racquets for players that couldn't afford them just to involve them in the sport.
"The idea is even if the kid isn't a good player now, tennis is something they can play for the rest of their life,'' Hovan said.
The athletes that would seem to be most at risk of getting left out are those from low-income situations, or perhaps those where the family had to pay for multiple athletes - a $50 fee could easily turn into $150 or $200 - or single-parent households.
Gary Snyder, the father of Mountain Lion volleyball standout Mitchell Snyder and another son about to enter seventh grade, falls into the third of those categories. He said there really isn't a choice to be made.
"You want your kids to participate in sports if that's what they want to do. You're going to pay it. Fifty dollars might be a little much, but what are you going to do?'' Snyder said.
Snyder noted that the fee was on top of the fundraisers already being held by the various teams and booster clubs. If he qualified for some kind of financial aid in the form of food or raffle sales, he said he probably would just pay the fee out of pocket; as a single father with two children, his time is a more precious commodity than a minor hit on his budget.
"You get all fundraisered out,'' Snyder said.
Steinbugl saw a parallel in what is happening now at Altoona Area School District with youth sports that aren't affiliated with schools.
"I look back to Little League. It was basically pay-for-play in Little League, because you'd get the tickets to sell,'' Steinbugl said. "It was probably $100, $150 to sell per child. I'm not a salesperson. We just bought the tickets. Looking back on that situation and looking ahead, it's pretty much the same thing.''
In a twist, there's a possibility that the fee could increase participation in some cases. Football coach Tom Palfey said one of his players told him he would go out for other sports.
"He said if he was going to have to pay $50,'' Palfey said, "he was going to get his money's worth.''
Barring a better option, Steinbugl is satisfied with the pay-to-play solution. He admitted, however, that it was not without drawbacks.
"I'm going to feel badly if there are families in the district if they can't pay the money or the child is too proud to ask for the money. In that case, something has to be done,'' said Steinbugl, whose sons, Alois and Max, are in two sports each.
To Misitano, not keeping children in athletics could turn out to be far more costly than $50.
"Sports keeps kids busy and keeps them out of trouble,'' Misitano said. "I think it's a great experience, and I don't think everyone's going to participate anymore.''